Birthright groups reportedly given exemption from Israel’s tourist ban

Groups classified as ‘Jewish tourism’ allowed to circumvent ban on foreign entry, but will still be required to undergo three-day quarantine upon arrival

Jewish youth from across the world attend the main annual Taglit-Birthright event at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Jewish youth from across the world attend the main annual Taglit-Birthright event at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The government has decided to allow the resumption of Taglit-Birthright trips next week, despite the ongoing travel ban on foreigners, according to reports Wednesday.

Trips will restart on December 19, according to a memo retrieved by Jewish Insider on Monday. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signed an exemption to the travel ban for “Jewish tourism,” which will include Birthright and other Jewish heritage trips, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

Participants on such tours will still have to quarantine for three days upon entry and receive two negative COVID-19 tests just like all Israeli travelers returning to the country, the reports said.

The Health, Foreign and Interior ministries met and agreed to Shaked’s exemption, which does not apply to Christian groups looking to celebrate Christmas in Israel, according to Haaretz.

Amid the rise of the Omicron COVID-19 variant late last month, the Israeli government took the far-reaching step of shuttering its borders to foreigners for two weeks. Last Thursday evening, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the directive be extended an additional 10 days, through December 21 at least.

Currently, the only exceptions to the ban allow for first-degree family members of those getting married, having a bar or bat mitzvah, or giving birth to apply for special entry — which is still sometimes denied.

Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The new rules have angered immigrants in the country whose non-Israeli relatives are prevented from visiting during one of the main vacation periods of the year.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai told The Times of Israel on Friday that the decision is damaging Israel’s ties with Jews abroad.

“Yes, it is damaging [ties]. I know it is, and it hurts me dearly because I very much want the relationship to continue,” Shai said in an interview on the sidelines of the Israeli American Council’s national summit in Florida.

But Shai also defended the decision, saying that the government is taking important steps in order to ensure the health of the public in Israel.

He acknowledged that there are non-citizens who are fully vaccinated and willing to quarantine for three days upon entry, as is currently required of Israelis. “But the decision was to take maximum precautionary measures,” he said.

Also last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Bennett penned a letter to the Jewish Federations of North America in which he insisted that he was doing everything he could in order to reopen the country’s borders “as soon as possible.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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